Westmoore athletic director John Burruss has an index card inscribed “The summer the circus came to town.”
His intent is to have that be part of a shadow box commemorating the 2009 summer when baseball phenom Bryce Harper spent a week playing for the Westmoore baseball team.
The “circus” moniker is the most appropriate way to describe that week.
With Harper preparing for his postseason debut as a rookie with the Washington Nationals against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday in the Division Series, his teammates and coaches from that summer can reflect on just what they witnessed.
It started out as a relatively normal summer for the Westmoore baseball team.
Then word started spreading of a 16-year-old Harper planning on playing for two weeks with the team. Harper was good friends with Westmoore baseball player Taylor Tipps and had played previously in Oklahoma during the summer.
“I really didn't know who he was, and my dad looked up some YouTube videos and showed me,” said Logan Glasgow, now a student at Central Oklahoma after playing two seasons at Northern Oklahoma College in Enid. “Then I started watching the videos and I thought it was pretty exciting. I got really excited to play with him.”
The excitement quickly spread past the team when Sports Illustrated put Harper on their cover with a headline dubbing him “The Chosen One.”
Fans and media from all over flocked to the games, leaving many players in awe of the attention. Even opposing coaches wanted to see the future No. 1 overall draft pick.
“We had a situation ... where I've only got four kids in my dugout that are subs,” said Sean Brooks, the Westmoore summer league coach at the time. “But I've got four of our coaches, I've got five or six coaches from different teams that are just there hanging out … I've got 30 guys in my dugout and only four of them are players.”
Westmoore had to bring in extra stands and clear areas for more fans to stand during the game. Suddenly, games that might have 20 fans in attendance had hundreds.
And Harper delivered. He had four hits in his debut, including two home runs. The homers in his debut were just a sign of things to come.
One home run even came on demand late in a game when he had yet to homer with his usual wooden bat. So he decided to use an aluminum bat.
“This was his last at-bat and everybody was like, ‘Come on; let's do it. We want a home run,' and stuff like that,” said Caleb St. Laurent, now a walk-on middle infielder at TCU. “He came up with a metal bat and just demolished one over the fence.”
But as impressive on the field as Harper was, he was equally impressive dealing with the “circus.”
He signed nearly every autograph, talked to media and yet still found time to be a kid with his teammates.
“It kind of seemed like he had dealt with that his entire life,” St. Laurent said. “It was almost a normal part of his everyday life. He has always been the best player on the field, so it seemed like he had dealt with that his entire life.”
Brooks said the frenzy got to the point where they had to limit autographs to kids only and they had to force Harper to go home to get rest.
But Harper kept delivering every day.
And the fans kept showing up, much like they do now in the major leagues.
It's not surprising for his former Westmoore connections to see him hit a home run or leg out a double on TV. In fact, it's expected.
“To me it sounds kind of dumb, but every time I see him play it's kinda like nothing,” Glasgow said. “I just think, ‘Ha, I played with that guy.' Especially when everyone around you is going, ‘Oh my gosh. Have you seen this guy? Did you se what he did last night?' I'm like, ‘Yeah, that's what he does.'”
What he did for the Westmoore players was also invaluable, Brooks said. He showed them how hard they had to work to be successful. He also showed them what a full stadium is like.
But the circus always moves on to another town.
“He left and the next game there's a lot of people there and the next game it was just back to our parents,” St. Laurent said. “It was incredible to me because those people were just there to watch Bryce Harper.”